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Archive for the ‘Gene Kelly’ Category

Ziegfeld Follies

13 Jun

Ziegfeld Follies – directed by lots of people including Vincent Minnelli. Song and Dance Musical Scrapbook. 110 minutes Technicolor 1945.

★★★

The Story: None. Flo Ziegfeld in heaven reminisces into being a last great follies. When it is over, he reappears as the other slice of the sandwich. The filling is a compendium of talent then under contract at MGM.

~

Some of these acts lie dead in the water. Others dogpaddle around. All of them are with Olympic grade performers, including Esther Williams who actually was Olympic grade. She tumbles under water smiling valiantly amid the kelp in a piece that feels forced, and, of course, is just that, as we are forced to believe that when she swims off-camera she wouldn’t dream of taking a breath of air there.

Judy Garland plays The Great Movie Star giving an interview, but the chorus boys have more life to them than the piece. Not even Garland, full of vaudeville fun as she was, can energize the flaccid material. For once, though, she is properly costumed and it’s good to see her looking so grown-up, cute, and soignée.

Red Skelton’s immediacy is funny as a TV pitchman for a brand of gin. And Victor Moore brilliantly convinces himself and each of us watching that he is being reduced to desperation by his blowhard lawyer, well played by Edward Arnold. It looks like an old Orpheum Circuit skit, and it probably was one. As does the piece with Fanny Brice playing a housewife who has to recover a winning sweepstakes ticket given by her husband to the landlord, William Frawley. The skit was must have been funnier on the stage; Brice must have been funnier on the stage, she probably relished her audiences, they in turn enriching her. Hume Cronyn surprises you by his deftness as the comic husband in this piece.

The one solid dud in the collection is Keenan Wynn in the telephone sequence. Directed by the famous acting teacher Bobby Lewis, one would have thought something might have been made of it, but it would have been better played by his father Ed Wynn, or at least by someone with natural funny bones, like Durante or Hope or Raye. Keenan Wynn could be funny as a character but not as a stand-up single. He is suicidally bad, poor guy. Let’s sink down into our seats and spare him further shame.

This being MGM, everything is over-produced, including Lena Horne’s solo, the wonderful song “Love.” With her hot eyes and powerful arms and elbows, Horne moves through the song’s genius in a costume wrapped around her like a wound.

Another singer, James Melton, sings the waltz scene from Traviata. And Kathryn Grayson sings the finale, in which Cyd Charisse twirls about as the ballerina, as she does in the opening, briefly with Fred Astaire.

Astaire dances four times in this film. And he sings. And there is no one like him, and, without meaning to, he really puts everyone else in the piece outside the pale. He is the one who’s worth the ticket of admission.

One of his dances is with Gene Kelly, in a frivolous duet, “The Babbit and the Bromide,” and Astaire opens the entire show with a turn or two in which Charisse dances and Lucile Ball appears wielding a whip as a dominatrix. Except for two sideways glances she asks us to take this hysteria seriously. No one with hair that particular color could possibly be serious.

But Astaire dances twice with the stony Lucile Bremer, once playing a society dame at a ball being wooed by a cat burglar, and in the second with Bremer as a Chinatown doxie being woed by Bobby Lewis, terrifying as the ganglord, and by Astaire as a Chinese peasant.

Bremer was a talented dancer, with good carriage, and a fine figure. She dances beautifully with Astaire, but as a screen personality she is meaningless. Astaire is dancing with a mummy, and it is odd that this was not found out sooner, when all Astaire needed to do was turn to Cyd Charisse who was standing there right next to him. Bremer’s face is cold; she can’t help it, but it is just awful to look at. She had made Minnelli’s Yolanda and The Thief with Astaire and Minnelli, another failed film, and these two pieces, one suspects, are left-overs from that film. Bremer was Arthur Freed’s mistress. He is the producer. Indeed, “Raffles” – an upper-crust dance at a satire ball – is an exact duplicate of the plot of Yolanda.

“Limehouse Blues” is fan dance, and is especially interesting as Astaire retains a poker face, his slant eyes expressionless, while they both wield four fans in startling metronomic display. It is actually a ballet, such as Gene Kelly would mount, and it works like all get out. Astaire’s cooperation with a partner on the dance floor is meritorious. The more you look at him perform the less you believe your eyes. Credulity is inapt to a miracle.

Both pieces seem to have been augmented by Minnelli’s set designs, décor, and color sense – with big corps de ballet. And certainly by his desire for fantasy-dance and dream-dance, of the kind he would put into play at the end of The Bandwagon, also with Astaire.

Why sample this smorgasbord?

Because Fred Astaire had the greatest body ever to appear in film.

One looks at all the Rembrandts one can.

 

 

 

Cover Girl

28 Nov

Cover Girl – directed by Charles Vidor. Musical. A hoofer in A Brooklyn nightclub becomes a fashion magazine cover-girl and a Broadway star, much to the chagrin of her buddies. 107 minutes Color 1944.

★★★★★

Rita Hayworth was a true dancer, which is to say she was born to dance, and if one could say she was a great dancer, it would have to be not because of her technical prowess and range. There were things she could not do, had not been trained to do, did not have the body to do.

But on the grounds of musicality, enthusiasm for the dance, and port de bras, she is one of the greatest dancers ever filmed.

By musicality is meant: is she just ahead of the beat? She is. This means that the music is a response to the dance, that the music comes out of the steps, rather than the other way round. That is what makes a dance a musical dance insofar as a dancer is involved. It gives something for the orchestra leader to follow. For it is the dance our attention is primarily on.

Enthusiasm is the sense that the dancer loves to dance. This comes off of Hayworth in every dance she does here. Dancing with Phil Silvers and Gene Kelly in “Make Way For Tomorrow” you see how dance gives her glee and glee her drive. You see she is the one of the three most enjoying herself. She does not intend it to, but this draws focus to her. You want to watch and stay with such happiness.

It also validates her being a dancer at all, for this enthusiasm makes clear that she is a born dancer as well as a trained one. It gives us pleasure in her confidence in her physical strength and in her natural power, as this enthusiasm releases the spectacle of her might to us. Which brings us to the question of port de bras.

By port de bras is meant how the arms, shoulders and upper back are carried – the sheer beauty and propriety of her arm movements, how they are held, where they are held, how they float. But in Rita Hayworth’s case, superb as she is at port de bras, she is also endowed with broad flexible shoulders, a back strengthened by practice, and the most beautiful arms and hands in the world.

Of course, usually Hayworth’s arms are held above her waist, but they work with a grace so rich and natural and skilled, that it constitutes a dance in and of itself. This comes out of nightclub flamenco where she danced as her father’s partner from the time she was twelve. So it is not the difficulty of the execution of steps that makes her dancing great, but the grasp of it with the flamenco fire-carriage of her arms, carried high above her diaphragm. This is flamenco-style; it gives her dancing duende. Watch her as she dances with Gene Kelly in the fashion showroom number. Look at his port de bras. And then look at hers. Gene Kelly was an agile dancer, good looking, and sexy, as was she, but she is the one you look at, and you can easily see why.

Rudolph Maté films her magnificently, as he was often to do. He discovered how shadow revealed her inner visage, and he knew how responsive she was. Watch for those lingering closeups on her subtly changing face.

Cover Girl is probably some kind of ur-musical, in that we get Kelly first doing the sort of work that would change musicals to an earthy, lower-class, non-backstage, jazz/ballet style. We have the first of his famous, midnight, city-street dances, which we find again in Singing In The Rain and It’s Always Fair Weather – dances where he uses trash cans, street lamps, and passing drunks as props; indeed we have two such dances. His dance to his own reflection in “Long Ago And Far Away” is probably the most elaborate and interesting dance he ever did, because he dances the truly neurotic.

Kelly, selfishly, loses the opportunity to properly dance “Long Ago And Far Away” with Hayworth. Is it Kern’s greatest ballad? Most of a musical’s numbers are comic numbers, and Jerome Kern is the least original of all the great composers at them; there are a number of them here; they are serviceable. But no one could write a more rapturous melody than Jerome Kern. “Long Ago And Far Away” is still with us.

Phil Silvers, Eve Arden, and Otto Kruger fortify the tale of a chorus girl from Brooklyn becoming a fashion magazine cover-girl and then a Broadway star. Apart from this, you might notice a certain treatment going on here: you might notice that Hayworth is becoming enshrined.

But never mind: here she is in all her grace and beauty and skill. Ask yourself the question: whom do you care about here and why?

Or don’t ask it. She doesn’t ask for analysis. She’s an entertainer. That’s what makes her happy.

So just treat yourself to her. She is receptive, she is talented, she is ravishing. She gives off sexuality like fire. And she is also that oddly rare thing among actors: she is touching.

 

 

 

Gene Kelly: Anatomy Of A Dancer

24 Oct

Gene Kelly: Anatomy Of A Dancer –– directed by Robert Trachtenberg — documentary –– 87 minutes color and black and white 2008.

* * * * *

I only barely prefer Fred Astaire. Kelly projected an arrogance I found distasteful and a bonhomie I never believed, never more so than in his celebrated umbrella dance. Astaire was thought of in terms of the females he danced with, as though the public wondered if they could match him and some of them did–– Cyd Charisse, Ginger Rogers, Eleanor Powell, and his favorite Rita Hayworth. Kelly’s dance skills were not great, so, while he had some good partners, no one was worried about whether his partner could live up to him. His contribution to musicals was his imagination about dance, particularly jazz ballet. This documentary about all this is excellent. There are good interviews by Arthur Laurents and his wife Betsy Blair and others, all attesting honestly to how difficult he was and how influential. With a limited dancer’s repertory and few moves (but then so had Bob Fosse), Gene Kelly brought to the screen a brash, blithe, lower-class vitality, and great imagination and dance daring, as well as ballets the like of which had never been seen on screen before. He had a superb sense of the partnership of the camera in dance presentation on film. All this is well discussed and shown in this documentary. Anyone who watches it will learn something they didn’t know about what it all took and what this remarkable talent gave in the heyday of Hollywood musicals.

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